LAS VEGAS - For 100 years, men have stood between metal pipes and attempted to prevent vulcanized rubber discs from getting past them in National Hockey League games.
As of this morning, 776 individuals had donned goaltender equipment in NHL games - from felt-filled canvas pads to today's combinations of Kevlar, foam and plastic. Of that group, 171 never registered a single victory and just 177 reached 100 wins. Thirty-two have won 300 regular-season NHL games, and hockey fans know their names.
Tom Barrasso. Ed Belfour. Turk Broda. Martin Brodeur. Sean Burke. Tony Esposito.
Let's be honest, nobody really knew what would happen in eight months, let alone 12 years, when a 21-year-old rookie goaltender made his NHL debut at what was then called the RBC Center on Oct. 7, 2005. Sure there were high expectations - he was the first netminder taken by the franchise in the first round since the team's arrival in North Carolina. But of the 33 goaltenders to play for the franchise before him, none had won 150 games, let alone 300.
Two and a half hours later, he had won his first NHL game, stopping Mario Lemieux, Zigmund Palffy and Sidney Crosby on consecutive penalty shots. Eight and a half months later, he was a Stanley Cup Champion and a Conn Smythe winner - the fourth rookie to win the award in league history.
Marc-Andre Fleury. Grant Fuhr. Glenn Hall. Dominik Hasek. Curtis Joseph. Nikolai Khabibulin.
It takes a special kind of person to subject himself to the punishment a goaltender inevitably takes physically, and even more so, mentally. No position in the game is more scrutinized, analyzed and criticized. Every single mistake or failure is laid bare. For the rest of us, it would be like having thousands of people surrounding our desks to shower us with boos every time we made a typo.
And they're still human beings. They play sick. They play hurt. They play through personal challenges that only those closest to them know about. But in these jobs, there can be no excuses. Stiffen that upper lip, stand in front of television cameras, and take the medicine.
Miikka Kiprusoff. Olie Kolzig. Harry Lumley. Henrik Lundqvist. Roberto Luongo. Ryan Miller.
Certainly, an athlete that achieves a milestone that fewer than 35 people have reached in a century has opportunities to take his talents elsewhere. But this one didn't leave. He made Raleigh his home, got married, had children. He started his own charitable endeavors, impacting the lives of hundreds of people in the Triangle. While so many of his teammates dispersed to hometowns across North America and Europe, he started spending his summers in North Carolina. That was home.
He didn't just break all the major goaltending records in franchise history, he obliterated them. All-time leaders lists for games played, shutouts, wins - regular season and playoffs - all show his name on top, and will for a long time.
Andy Moog. Evgeni Nabokov. Chris Osgood. Jacques Plante. Mike Richter. Patrick Roy. Terry Sawchuk.
Because of the nature of the position, goaltenders can be, shall we say, a little different. Many have superstitions, or odd habits. Lots of them stay to themselves, especially on game days. But this person, he was just one of the guys. He wrote "HAVE FUN" on his sticks, and he lived by that. He wasn't off on his own in a corner before games, he was right there with the rest of his teammates, playing two-touch soccer and cracking jokes.
It wasn't always fun. There were plenty challenges and frustrations. But, the competitive fire that sometimes showed during pre-game soccer burned brightest in the situations with the most pressure. In March, April, May and June, his teammates always knew they could count on him. And those teammates - to a man - love him for it.
Billy Smith. Rogie Vachon. John Vanbiesbrouck. Mike Vernon. Tomas Vokoun. Gump Worsley.
And now, from 776 names, there is a 32nd on the elite list of goaltenders with 300 National Hockey League victories. Fans of the Carolina Hurricanes got to witness every one of them.
That name is Cam Ward .